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Danny Ainge on Jayson Tatum: “he’s always wanted to be great”

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The Celtics president of basketball operations also gave updates on Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Training Camp - Los Angeles Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Ainge has been there and done that. One of Danny Ainge’s biggest strengths as the Celtics President of Basketball Operations is that he’s been there before. As a decorated player at every level and in multiple sports, Ainge knows the ins and out of being a professional athlete. He’s also been a national broadcaster and a head coach. There’s little that he hasn’t seen in the NBA.

On his weekly visit with 98.5 The SportsHub’s Toucher & Rich visit, Ainge touched on the relationship between former and current players. Last week, NBC Boston’s Kendrick Perkins called out Jayson Tatum after a dud performance on national TV against the Philadelphia 76ers. Tatum subsequently reached out to the former Celtics big man and followed up their conversation with a 53-point performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“‘Success has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan.’ We’ve all heard that. Jayson Tatum for the last twelve games, not since the Sixers game, has been on a tear. He’s been playing unbelievable basketball,” Ainge said. “I love Perk to death. We’ve also heard the saying that ‘it takes a village’ and when you’re raising kids, you want anybody that’s a positive influence, so I would love to have Kendrick Perkins talk to any of my players at any time or Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce. They will only say good things, they will only share experiences that they’ve gone through. So, I love Perkins. More than anything, I love that Jayson Tatum picked up the phone and called Perk. That’s good that they have that connection.”

Since speaking with Perkins, Tatum has averaged 34.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4 assist per game on 52/46/92 splits. Bigger picture, since the NBA trade deadline, he’s averaged nearly 30/8/4 during the Celtics 8-3 run. However, Ainge was quick to not give Perkins too much credit for Tatum peaking when the Celtics have needed him most as they make a playoff seeding push.

“I think Jayson is wise and so is Jaylen. They’re wise beyond their years in my opinion. Both those guys know who’s blowing smoke and who is honest and good feedback. So, I’m certainly not dismissing the feedback that players receive, but I’m also not giving them all the credit for the players’ play because Jayson Tatum has been on a roll for four years and he’s had some down times,” Ainge said.

“I also think there’s been an adjustment. Brad has really done a good job this year. I think our players and coaches deserve a lot more credit for the atmosphere in which they’re playing. People don’t want to give millionaires a break, but I think it’s been a really hard year, a really challenging year and I give those guys all credit. In this case, we’re talking about Jayson Tatum. We’ve made some changes in the offense. Brad has always coached and always wanted the ball movement. It’s been a challenge with bodies down, but you can see that as the bodies come back...it’s easier to play the way they want to play when they have healthy bodies.”

Over the last eleven games, the Celtics’ offense ranks 9th in the league at 114.4 points per 100 possessions, but where they’ve grown the most is on the defensive end with a 107.1 defensive rating. And what could fuel this fire even more is that seven of their next nine games will be played at TD Garden with limited fans in the stands.

They could also be welcoming Evan Fournier back into the rotation. According to Ainge, the recently acquired swingman is “still in recovery” from COVID, but is feeling much better. Ainge also said that Walker could play in back-to-backs, but that the team is playing it safe because Walker’s knee has responded so well to their treatment plan.